It’s only slightly better than other dates of the period, and no one will ever call the 1894 Indian Head cent a key or even a semi-key date. But among Indian Head cents of the 1890s, it’s definitely a better date and perhaps even a sleeper when it comes to higher prices.
The 1894 was a coin of its times, and the times were not good. The United States was having a bad economic period that saw major labor unrest. Coin collecting was definitely in a depressed period.
The signs were seen everywhere. Proof sales were on the decline, and they are usually a very good reflection of the collector interest in a specific period. Coin production as a whole would also reflect the situation, with total mintages declining overall.
For the Indian Head cent, tough economic times were not all that unusual. It had been around for the Civil War and had seen some low mintages during the early 1870s, when the national economy was nothing new for Indian Head cents and neither were low mintages.
You can get a feel for just how weak the coin market was at the time when you understand that the proof total for the 1894 is just 2,632. That was not the lowest of the decade; totals were constantly in the 3,000 and on down to 1,795 range. By comparison, the 1880s saw only one date – the 1887, at 2,960 – drop below 3,000. The top proof was the 1883, which at 6,609 was more than double every date from the 1890s.
In the case of regular mintages, the 1894 really stands out. A total of 16,752,132 examples were struck. Every other date of the decade was more than twice that total, with a couple reaching the 50 million mark. But after the Panic of 1893, the economy dragged mintages down.
Under the circumstances, you might expect that some collectors of the day would have saved the 1894, but that was not really the case. Collectors and dealers were not in the habit of saving any numbers of new issues, even if they were low mintage, and the 1894 would not have impressed any as being especially low, since there had been dates in the 1880s with similar totals and dates in the 1870s with far lower totals.
Any saving of the 1894 Indian Head cent was likely to be the proof, as that is the way many collected at the time. This made sense, as the Indian Head cent was produced only at the main facility in Philadelphia. With the proof option, many simply obtained a proof each year.
With its lower mintage, the 1894 was naturally going to be a better date in circulated grades. Examples graded G4 are currently priced at $4.50, which is safely above the available date price of about $1.50.
In Mint State, the 1894 continues to command a premium. MS60 coins are listed at $115, compared to available dates that are in the $50 range. MS65 coins climb to $675, with average dates in the $400 range. A Prf65 example is $650, while average prices tend to be around $585.
Numismatic Guaranty Corporation reports having seen 146 examples in MS65 condition, while the Professional Coin Grading Service reports about 176 examples. These totals, while certainly higher than those for key Indian Head cent dates, are not all that high.
Of course, there are solid numbers of proofs as well, so there is a decent pool of top-grade coins should you want one.
The real point to remember is that the 1894 Indian Head cent is very clearly better than other dates of the period. It will have a slightly greater demand, but while supplies are decent, they are a long way from being unlimited. That makes it not only an interesting reflection of its times but a coin to keep your eye on as well.
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